The Hebrew word TZELEM first appears in the Torah in this week’s portion, B'RAYSHEET.
· In the ancient Near East, the ruler of a nation was often described as the TZELEM, the image or likeness of a god. A ruler gained the respect of the people by being singled out as more than a mere mortal.
· TZELEM was the term assigned to visible symbols of gods of other peoples, such as idols portraying the sun, moon or very unusual looking creatures.
· Yet, TZELEM also described a unique quality that God didn’t give only to sovereign leaders of nations. God made humanity in the TZELEM of ELOHIM.
· The great rabbi Akiba said 1900 years ago – CHAVIV ADAM – BELOVED IS HUMANITY – SHENIVRA B’TZELEM ELOHIM – WHO WAS CREATED IN THE DIVINE IMAGE. God’s TZELEM rested upon every single person, not just upon earthly rulers. We human beings, created in the TZELEM or image of God, are visible signs or reflections of elements in the formation of the universe.
· The divine TZELEM or image might be reflected in the essence of our character, or it may be what links us to the vast web of connections within creation.
· The Torah and Jewish tradition further teach that we transmit a TZELEM, an image, from one generation to the next. In Genesis Chapter 5, verse 3, it states that, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he begot a son in his likeness after his image, and he named him Seth.” The stamp of the divine image, be it spiritual, intellectual, emotional, or even, in some way, physical, resting upon us, is like the image or TZELEM that parents pass to their children in the form of characteristics that are shared either by nature or by nurture.
· I believe that a congregation also has a TZELEM. That TZELEM embodies the contributions of the leaders and members from the past. It is the reflection of what current members shape in the present, building on the past but adding something unique and special in the here and now. And what we do now creates the basis for the TZELEM of the future.
· So may the TZELEM we shape be one of honesty, humility, respect, compassion, warmth and hope – so that we can look upon our community, as God looked on creation at the end of the 6th day in this week’s Torah reading and say HINEI TOV M’OD – THIS IS VERY GOOD!